Illuminations reflects on longing & identity in poetry & music at St Mary’s, South Perth

David CusworthThe West Australian
Jasmin Parkinson-Stewart and Jane Cameron on violin, soprano Bonnie de la Hunty, violist Alix Hamilton and cellist Krista Low at St Mary’s, South Perth, for Illuminations.
Camera IconJasmin Parkinson-Stewart and Jane Cameron on violin, soprano Bonnie de la Hunty, violist Alix Hamilton and cellist Krista Low at St Mary’s, South Perth, for Illuminations. Credit: Partografia Photography and Film

Longing was the leitmotif of Illuminations, a delicately balanced curation of strings and song at St Mary’s, South Perth, on Thursday.

Soprano Bonnie de la Hunty was the binding thread running through the six-way collaboration with WA musicians Jasmin Parkinson-Stewart and Jane Cameron on violin, violist Alix Hamilton, cellist Krista Low, and US composer Cara Zydor Fesjian.

The title was drawn from the centre piece “sum one” – texts selected by De la Hunty and Fesjian, set to Fesjian’s music – and a line from Virginia Woolf: “The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations”.

De la Hunty intoned the opening verse from Emily Dickinson over a lush understorey of strings, as though peering through fronds of music to glimpse the existential question: “I’m Nobody! Who are you?”

A drone of strings then supported De la Hunty’s vocalising while Fesjian’s recorded voice recited a pastiche of storied authors from Aristotle to Eliot.

De la Hunty moved on to Wordworth’s daffodils, conducting the ensemble while singing to co-ordinate recording, music and song.

Finally a comic glissando introduced Woolf: more direct musing, perturbation in text reflected in complex chords and swirling mystery in melody.

It was cerebral, but also richly coloured in composition, homage perhaps to Woolf’s “illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark”; transcendent and lucid.

Fesjian topped off her contribution with a quartet, Loom: a piece more muscular in tone and delivery, palpably weaving the four voices in warp and weft of sound; sonorous melody worming its way across the group like a solemn reflection before pizzicato flipped the mood to dance.

De la Hunty had opened the evening with one of several arrangements by her own hand, of Andre Previn’s Vocalise; Low’s mournfully meditative cello mirrored in wordless, timeless soprano, joined gradually by the group in a sparse but comfortable setting exploring the acoustics of the high ceiling.

Denser timbre developed as cello inverted the chords — playing harmonics over violins and viola — then subsided to the simpler opening mode.

A film score followed in Phillip Glass’s Mishima quartet finale, urgent tones in repeated bowed phrases, a kaleidoscopic palette played sympathetically as a perpetuum mobile, building momentum towards a sudden conclusion.

After the Fesjian, Elena Kats-Chernin’s Eliza Aria from Wild Swans Suite, arr. De la Hunty, featured arpeggio figures in soprano over pizzicato then bowed strings, evoking distance and altitude; the quartet agile and precise, fading deftly to close.

The same Australian composer’s setting of Judith Wright’s Late Spring channelled the female energy in the room; longing writ large in the verses and lush strings, a strangely pastoral scene like an allegorical canvas, with atmospherics in the ensemble.

De la Hunty’s arrangement of Samuel Barber’s setting of Sure on this Shining Night (James Agee) led with looping songlines reflected in strings, a cascade of sound driven by the crystalline vision of the verses; regret and longing of the poetry in furious agreement with the music.

Finally, De la Hunty’s take on Strauss’s Morgen matched her voice to the celestial beauty of the song; a fitting epitaph to a thoughtful and thought-provoking recital.

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